The fertile imagination of Peter Kosminsky: Agitprop as history

Another CiF Watch reader, Ariadne, reviews Peter Kosminsky’s drama, “The Promise.”

There are two things holding this drama series, The Promise, together: the gorgeous Hollywood-style hero, Christian Cooke – a subtle and convincing actor – and the stunning scenery of Israel. For those who aren’t familiar with the history of the region the duplicity of the plots and themes may be hidden by these visual delights. The dying shell of a man, Len, at the end, could be construed as Len having had his comeuppance, a miserable life. Is there a puritanical motif in the drama and justification for such a conclusion? Or is he rewarded by a happy death now that the key has been returned [to its Palestinian owners]?

Israelis live in sumptuous modern houses. Those in older dwellings are supplanting Arabs who used to live there. And when is “used to”? Until 1948. Then another Arab flight date is mentioned: 1967. Why not 1973, one wonders. Maybe because that is the war that Israel could have lost. Frightened Israelis are not part of the fantastical polemic that riddles this whole production.

Jewish emotions allowed here are hatred of the British, contempt for Arabs, loathing of Israel and dislike of one’s own Jewish family. And anger expressed in Hebrew which is not translated. A “settler” husband in Hebron was more reasonable than his wife but there was no way of telling that for the average British viewer. The Irgun grandfather is allowed to say that the Irgun did not hate the British. But he does not contradict Erin when she voices the lie that the British fought for the Jews in World War II. Imagine Menachem Begin in that situation. That would have been drama. The whole presentation does not show much slaughter of Jews by the British. Nor does it show any British personnel standing by while Arabs slaughter Jews – glaring omissions when dramatizing events from 1945-1948.

And where on earth are the Palestine Police? Were ex-Black and Tans members too prone to show Britain in a bad light? We see a policeman punching the Dov Gruner figure, Aaron Klein, as he tries to get out of his hospital bed but Len saves him. We do not know whether Gruner was about to be shot or rescued. We see others when the bodies of the two sergeants are found. We do hear a British officer give the command to shoot to kill Jews on suspicion but we do not see such shootings carried out. Nothing is explained so what is the viewer who does not know the history to make of it? The first two parts of the drama are fairly clear. Parts three and four are mired in obscurity for the naive or unalert viewer.  Such one-sided propaganda (mired in obscurity) is extremely problematic.

And who are “the settlers”? Jews who live in Hebron in the twenty-first century. No mention of the Jews who were evacuated by the British almost eighty years earlier, except for the indirect statement by Mohamed’s cousin that her grandfather took 400 Jews into his house in “the massacre”. No date, no explanation although the very name Hebron shows whose town it is. The character Omar – surnamed for George Habash? – is allowed to mention 60 years of fighting the enemy. He doesn’t mean the Nazi-allied Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Al Husseiniwho was a friend of Hitler in the 1940s. He does not mention Jews who fought Hitler alongside the same British in WW2 while the far fewer Arab “allies” from Transjordan deserted in droves. Those Jews are not mentioned except in the single character of the Irgun fighter who tries to recruit Len. And the good character, Mohamed, asks Len why the British army treats the Jews “with kid gloves”. Easy to say when the Hadassah Hospital convoy slaughter doesn’t feature in the storyline.

I would like to shout very loudly “The British were the ones who caused all this!”

Kosminsky describes his work as a thriller and a love story. It takes the first few minutes of part 1 only to see the “Thank you, Tony Blair” clunking fist of propaganda: a dying, bleeding child and a key. Kosminsky claims to have done his homework but his years of research produce not knowledge, not understanding, but a steep slant towards Arab myth, and antisemitism of the Islamic, European and native British kind merged into one. By the time the antisemitic Jenin furore arose there had been a deathbed admission by someone from the British Military HQ at the time that the Irgun had indeed telephoned a warning that the military ignored. It didn’t stop the Jew-haters from going on and on. The fuss about this production is rather reminiscent of 2002 and it needs as much to be answered.

The promise ostensibly presented in the series is two-fold. One promise concerns that overworked symbol, the key. The other is mentioned briefly as God’s promise to the Jews, said to be two thousand years old. Nothing in the four parts shows anything to contradict that two thousand years. It is as if Jews suddenly in 1945 chose the British Mandate for Palestine for a “purely religious” reason – or at least 22% of it since the Arabs of the region had been given Transjordan in 1922-3. The real promise omitted from Kosminsky’s politicised ambiance is thBalfour Declaration, the San Remo Agreementand the Mandate which should have been their fulfilment. Those “promises” are never mentioned although the Mandate Period (1945-1948) is the primary era highlighted.

Some Jews arriving by sea are interned but those turned back and sent to Germany are not mentioned. Nor is Arab immigration although Churchill noticed it all right. The real promise made to Mohamed was to bring his son Hassan safely to him later. Does Len feel guilt for taking him out by where the dogs were? Eventually he expresses shame. Were they Palestine Police dogs? Was Len so blind?

All good propaganda aimed at delegitimising Israel ignores the result of World War One for Jews. Apart from the Jews who fought in the war, many also risked their livespying for the Allies – contributions, many no doubt hoped, would assist in gaining a Jewish state. The Zion Mule Corps flanked The Australian Light Horse to take Damascus. There was a WWI Kosminsky-like touch in Damascus where Lawrence and his Arabs took the victory parade – after the troops who had done the work had withdrawn. It was all right for Arabs who had never had a country to receive numerous states and many millions of square miles, but Jewish interests increasingly became more expendable to the realpolitik considerations of the day.

Not a word was mentioned of the Arab Revolt of 1936-1939. Jews were shown suffering house demolition as a punishment for terrorism, but had Kosminsky been fair viewers would have been informed precisely what Jews were fighting for. At this time and distance that is safe to say. But in the Mandate the vast majority of Jews were outraged by the behaviour of the Irgun and Lehi. That outrage was not hinted at. And many Jews still wring their hands about the two sergeants. In the modern part of the story the IDF carries out house demolitions against Arab terrorists. Not a whisper that the Emergency Regulations enacted by the British to curb the Arab Revolt were the laws used. By 1945 Jews had provoked Emergency Regulations too. Kosminsky’s Arabs are rather gentle. Yet British troops apparently killed 15,000 of them 1936-1939. How much more denial could there be?

The belief centre of the drama seems to reside in the young characters; Erin, Len, Omar and Paul. It’s a very restricted and perverted world that Erin “grows” into more quickly than her grandfather did. Erin is apparently meant to parallel the audience as it “finds things out”. The clean slates won’t find out much worth knowing in this production.

Viewers of The Promise cannot find out much. The various plot devices are crude. A key, a diary, moving Deir Yassin to a location where the hero can wander into the “massacre”. A home situated in a place “like Paradise” and the suicide bomb explodes in the Eden café where the “dissident” Paul is miraculously not maimed. There is an Eden Camp that may be relevant as a British forces museum and also a place of reunion – a good place and once a camp for Prisoners of War. But the second suicide bomb is shown in after-effect only – on that trivialising medium, television. We don’t know where it was. And whose family does the bomber come from? Mohamed’s.

The music associated with the Arab areas is of the type the BBC likes to use to accompany tales from the Raj. Here it echoes the muezzin’s call to prayer and sometimes that is a piercing scream to highlight another Kosminsky iniquity. Shades of Hitchcock, perhaps and maybe that is what Kosminsky means by “a thriller”. I love thrillers but I’d never confuse them with war and genocidal terror. It is all too clear from MEMRI translations and the invectives of certain “British” Muslim “clerics” just who are intended as the objects of genocide.

Erin finds a chain and padlock when she “needs” to make herself and an Arab girl human shields. She has had a momentary shock on finding herself at the suicide bomber’s home in Gaza but she adapts very quickly indeed. I suppose after 7/7 there had to be some wave towards real terrorists. There was a huge bow to Rachel Corrie. And how that bulldozer was overplayed. What a mess!

Kosminsky says a theme is “love betrayed”. Whose love? Erin sees her grandfather having sex with her but like many writers of essays at school, wakes to find “it was only a dream”. Why is it there? It’s not a flashback. Is Erin any more than a symbol? She lies. She has epilepsy. She cannot drive. She is jealous. She is needy. To go to Hebron she takes the bus and asks Paul to come to rescue her. The drama works perhaps as an episodic plot but that can hardly be what Kosminsky intended it to be. He said it was about the British army and for the British. I really don’t see how deceit helps either.  The battle cry of the Sixth Airborne Division was “Waho Mohamed”.  I certainly heard the “Waho”.

Do the various devices Kosminsky uses arise from a raw hatred of Israel? He said he had never visited before the shooting of this serial. How far does he use symbols? The bulldozer’s yawning mouth was flagrant and ridiculous. When the modern part of the drama was said to be 2005 I didn’t understand and one way of finding out seemed to be to look for that bombing of a named bistro though I certainly didn’t remember that name. I googled “eden café” and “bomb” and got quite a shock. Try it. It seems to fit with the whole anti-Israel message.

While accepting that drama and documentary are two entirely different things I think the parts below of one BBC programme from the Empire Warriors series cover some gaping holes left by Kosminsky.

The Jewish War (Palestine 1947): Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, & 6

So, that’s The Promise. A fertile field in which the true drama of Israel can drive out the chaff.

It won’t be any surprise to CiFWatch that Anthony Lerman called it “a sensitive television drama”.

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